Monday, May 30, 2011

Genesis 49:21 Jacob's Blessing: Naphtali

"Naphtali is a doe set free
that bears beautiful fawns."

Genesis 49:21 (NIV)


This one verse has engendered some interesting commentary.  It is a rather intriguing verse.  I mean, is Jacob really telling Naphtali that his tribe will be like a deer that has beautiful offspring?!

My trusty NIV Study Bible notes that this may be "a reference to an independent spirit fostered in the descendents of Naphtali by their somewhat isolated location in the hill country north of the Sea of Galilee..." (note on Genesis 49:21, pg.81)  An image of a wild, elusive deer silently disappearing into the forest comes to mind, so I can see where such an interpretation comes from.

What about the "beautiful fawns" part, though?  Surely it has some significance, or Jacob wouldn't have bothered to tell us this detail.  I wondered if it had some reference to the physical attributes of Naphtali's descendants.  Perhaps they would be a generally good-looking bunch! 

Actually, the NIV Study Bible has an additional note on the latter part of this verse that says these words could also be interpreted "...he utters beautiful words."  OK, that makes more sense.  One of the commentaries which I read said that the tribe of Naphtali was known for their skill at prose and verse, but I do not know where that information came from.  I will try to research that a bit.

Meanwhile, if you go to this page, you can read several comments from learned men about this verse.  Here also, if you are so inclined, you can check out the tabs along the top of this page to see the  'Interlinear' or 'Hebrew' functions of this site so that you can check the original translation for yourself.  Even if you don't speak/read Hebrew, you can get enough information to help sort through difficult verses or their interpretations by various writers.

Some interesting points from the comments on that page:

  • The main historical event in which the tribe of Naphtali figured was the defeat of Jabin's (a Canaanite king known for his 20-year long cruelty to the Israelites and his 900 iron chariots) forces by Barak and Deborah, which is detailed in Judges chapters 4 and 5.
  • One writer notes that Jesus and his disciples spent much time in this area, and says that the "beautiful words" part of this verse refers to the Gospel going forth from this area.  He also notes that many of the disciples of Jesus came from this area.  That is very interesting to me, especially in light of these verses from Matthew 4:12-17:
"When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison,
he returned to Galilee.
Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum,
which was by the lake
in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali --
to fulfill what was said by the prophet Isaiah:
'Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles --
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.'

From that time on
Jesus began to preach,
'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.' "

Matthew 4:12-17 (NIV)

(The quote from Isaiah mentioned in this passage is from Isaiah 9:1-2.)

      I knew about the verses in Matthew already, but when combined with the prophecy from Genesis 49:21 about Naphtali's 'beautiful words", it certainly gives an added dimension to these verses!

So far I have been unable to locate any information about examples of people from the tribe of Naphtali being particularly skilled with words.  If anyone has any examples or information, please make a comment below.  Thanks!

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